They always came at night. They fed on darkness and fear. The dimly lit corners of my bedroom served as their concealment, and allowed my imagination to create all sorts of sinister apparitions that left me sleepless night after night. I was 5 years old and plagued with anxiety. But at 5, my developing brain could not yet correlate fear with anxiety, and instead mistook the panic as monsters hiding beneath my bed or closet. The terrors began in conjunction with my starting kindergarten. I was home, just me and mommy, until I was 5. Kindergarten was like a punch to the stomach…. a loss of breath, like my happy bubble burst and reality came rushing in head first. I cried, clung to my mother’s leg each morning at drop off, watched her walk away to the car with my heart sinking like a massive ship.
At night, while I lay in my bed, the fear of tomorrow would resurrect itself in the form of the boogeyman… my boogeyman, anxiety. I would sneak into my parents room after I heard their steady snores, and crawl beneath their bed lulled to sleep by their sounds. The fears continued long after kindergarten ended…. well into my pre-teen years. However in combination with my burgeoning hormones the fears became much more lethal and dangerous. I avoided social contact unless it consisted of a small group of friends I knew well. I watched several opportunities sail past me without an attempt to grab them. I felt suffocated by myself… my own brain held me hostage and I began to view this feeling, this anxiousness, with deep contempt.
I knew I had a problem… especially when my close friends would regard me with curiosity. Why couldn’t I hang out that night? Why was I crying over such minutia? My family was not the therapy/medication type… it was written off as teenage hormones. But my head kept telling me it was much much more. An interest in psychology began… sociology, the study of people, thoughts, abnormal thoughts and pages upon pages of “abnormal” psychological studies became my sustenance. I attempted over the years to attend therapy, once I had decent health insurance and autonomy. I sat with 4 different therapists one time each, and was unable to offer any useful information. My struggle with anxiety and depression over the years has yet to determine a victor. Work in progress as they say, and always will be so I hear.
But I have gained the tools in life I needed through my struggles… I know that each time I begin to feel that uncomfortable, unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach that I am on the verge of some time of growth and change like a caterpillar growing wings. I am continuing to morph. With the help of medication I have been able to slow the racing fears so I can better analyze and determine if they are warranted. I believe that my struggles have made me a better partner, better parent, and better counselor. I believe that bringing mental health awareness to the schools will increase adolescents and their parents abilities to deal with the tougher issues… give them a tool box of appropriate ways to deal with it.
Tara is a vocational rehabilitation counselor and a mother of two. She has worked in residential treatment centers providing one on one and group counseling to those in need. She is also a bad ass.